Despite Medical & Community Pleas
Lee County Commissioners held their second Emergency Meeting in six days on Monday, March 30, but again decided against imposing a “stay-at-home” order, instead passing a Resolution mirroring one issued by Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees from March 25.
The Commissioners refusal to implement a “stay-at-home” order came despite requests to the contrary by Fort Myers Beach Mayor Anita Cereceda, Florida State Representative Heather Fitzenhagen, Cape Coral Mayor Joe Coviello and Lee Health System’s Chief Operating Officer Dr. Larry Antonucci, who disagreed with a presentation Lee County Commissioner Chair Brian Hamman gave that seemed to indicate the coronavirus has reached its peak. Cereceda did not personally attend, as she is in a self-imposed quarantine in her Fort Myers Beach home.
Lee County Commissioners unanimously approved the Resolution. Under “Vulnerable Populations,” they recommend that all individuals over the age of 65 and all others of any age with high-risk health conditions remain home to limit their exposure to the COVID-19 virus. “Gatherings of Private Citizens” refers to no participation in social or recreational gatherings of more than 10 people, and in groups of less than 10, practice Social Distancing of at least six feet. “Density of Workforce” asks all business owners, supervisors, managers and others in charge to allow telework of employees where possible to reduce their onsite workforce to 50% of capacity. The Resolution will remain in place until Commissioners repeal it or the expiration of the Local State of Emergency.
Lee County Manager Roger Desjarlais added, “I am not sure how much more action we can take. We have our messaging out there that for the foreseeable future is ‘stay at home and stay safe!’ I can’t suggest to you that a ‘stay at home ordinance’ will, other than providing a false sense of security, be effective, as it will be impossible to enforce.”
COVID-19 Cases Rising in Lee
Dr. Antonucci responded to Chair Hamman’s presentation, saying that in the five days since the Lee County Commissioners’ last Emergency Meeting on Wednesday, March 25, “Florida COVID-19 cases increased from roughly 1,500 to 4,895; and those in Lee County from 52 to 162, with our Lee County death total now at 6. In your slide show numbers, I would be very cautious about showing a stabilization, as Lee County now has one of the highest morality rates in any Florida county. There will be a significant time lag before we know if we are having an effect, and it might be another three weeks until we know whether what we did today is making a difference. In the best and worst case scenario, if you implement restrictions, a small businessman can pick up the pieces and start again, but a 39-year-old father who lost his life cannot. I am not a politician; I am a physician.”
Hamman summarized how the county reacted to their request to Lee County residents last week to follow social distancing guidelines, showing photos of empty streets and mentioning less rafting of boats for large parties. He concluded that the county’s efforts worked and nothing more need be done.
Eleven people spoke during Public Comment; four against “stay-at-home” with two in favor. Another four argued that if Commissioners declare one, their business should be classified as “essential services;” two were golf courses, plus an appliance store and pawn shop. The final person expressed no preference but asked Commissioners to remember the community’s homeless population.
Speaking against “stay-at-home” was David Paci, General Manager of Charley’s Boat House Grill & Wine Bar. “I laid off 43 people and all I have left is one cook and one server. We should take our guidance from the Governor and that is the way Lee County should do it, but elections have consequences. There are a lot of food and beverage people out there and that is quite a shame. You should reopen the beaches if you can.”
Governor Orders “Safer At Home”
Four SE Florida Counties
While Lee County Commissioners met, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis issued a “Safer At Home” Executive Order for four Southeast Florida counties: Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Monroe. It will be in place roughly through mid-May, as these four jurisdictions currently have 58% of all total positive novel coronavirus cases in the State.
“This codifies a set of rules regarding ‘Safer At Home’ in Southeast Florida,” said the Governor. “It gets all four counties operating on the same sheet of music.” DeSantis, however, continued to reject calls for a statewide “Stay At Home” order, saying the Southeast Florida action was necessary due to the amount of cases in that region. Florida State Senator Jose Javier Rodriguez (D-37), whose district is in Miami-Dade, replied in a statement that the “patchwork approach will not cut it. Counties like Lee, for example, have medical professionals urging for a safe-at-home order, reminding us why a statewide order is the best approach.” DeSantis signed as well an order lifting restrictions that prevent recently retired police officers and nurses from returning to work until after six months of retirement.